Represent!

Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Election 2014: Complacent Democrats and ho-hum issues make for low turnout

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At just 13 percent, Los Angeles County had the lowest voter participation rate of any county in California on Tuesday. Fewer than one-in-eight registered voters cast a ballot, according to the County Registrar's tally. The state voter turnout average was about five percentage points higher.

Some blame the state's dominant political party and the new so-called "jungle primary" system that puts the two best-performing candidates into the November runoff, regardless of party affiliation.

"Democrats have been very complacent in California," said Rafe Sonenshein, director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. He said Republicans did well, securing general election spots in districts where Democrats dominate — notably the 33rd Congressional District covering L.A.'s coastal communities and part of the San Fernando Valley.

RELATED: KPCC's full coverage of the June 2014 primary election

"Its like [Democrats believe] it's going to be blue skies forever and Democrats will win every election," Sonenshein said Wednesday on KPCC's AirTalk. "But Democrats have a basic problem in turnout, year-after-year. except presidential races."

Political analyst Paul Mitchell said this election lacked big personalities and hot-button issues that draw voters to the polls. State law now confines citizen-drafted initiatives to the November general election ballot.

"That speaks to the emotional piece of it," Mitchell said. "Taking the ballot measures off the primary ballot definitely doesn't help with turnout."

As vice president of Political Data Inc., which analyzes voter data for campaigns, Mitchell said he saw the low turnout coming two weeks ago. Voting in a couple of competitive races on L.A.'s Westside and in Long Beach were the few places that saw an increase in mail-in voting.

Young adults, Latinos and independents make up a growing segment of the California's population, but tend to vote less often. And they don't vote much by mail.

"All three of those seem to be working together and reducing turnout," Mitchell said.

He noted that L.A. County voters also use mail-in ballots at lower rates than the rest of the state, a factor that also leads to lower turnout.

The L.A. County Clerk  says there are still tens of thousands of uncounted ballots so the percentage of turnout may rise slightly, but likely stay under 20 percent.

Here are voter turnout rates in Southern California, as reported by the respective counties to the Secretary of State as of Wednesday.

  • Los Angeles County 13.1 percent
  • San Bernardino County 14.8 percent
  • Orange County 16.9 percent
  • Riverside County  17.9 percent
  • Ventura County 18.5 percent
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